Raphiael Putney seeks consistency for UMass hoop
Mississippi State guard Dee Bost (3) shoots againt Massachusetts forward Raphiael Putney (34) during the first half of their NIT first-round college basketball game in Starkville, Miss., Tuesday, March 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) Purchase photo reprints »
Massachusetts' Raphiael Putney (34) celebrates his basket against Temple in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, in Philadelphia. Temple won 90-88. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr ) Purchase photo reprints »
Massachusetts' Raphiael Putney (34) pulls in a rebound in front of Temple's T.J. DiLeo (11) during the first half of a quarterfinals NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic 10 tournament in Atlantic City, N.J., Friday, March 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Mel Evans) Purchase photo reprints »
AMHERST — For stretches last year, if Raphiael Putney wasn’t the best player the University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team had, he was unquestionably the most exciting. He had many moments where his freakish athleticism made it risky for anyone in the building to take their eyes off him as the next SportsCenter dunk could be on the way.
He was second on the team in scoring at 10.1 points per game and had nine games of at least 15 points.
Other nights, Putney was all but invisible, his thin frame fading into the background barely making an impact. He had eight games with four points or fewer, with his minutes limited by too little stamina or too many fouls.
But part of the optimism surrounding the Minutemen on the eve of the 2012-13 season comes from how good Putney can be. At 6-foot-9 with a handle good enough to drive to the basket and reliable 3-point range, Putney is a hard matchup for any opponent when he’s on.
Coach Derek Kellogg hoped he’d be on more regularly in his junior year.
“I’m anticipating him not having such an up-and-down season where one day he’s the best player on the floor and the next day he’s not,” Kellogg said. “I’m hoping he can be more consistent so we can know exactly what we’re getting from him.”
He’s getting more responsibility right away. Part of what made UMass’ pressure defense as effective as it was last year was having 6-foot-9 senior center Sean Carter at the front of the press. Putney will replace him, allowing the Minutemen to retain a long presence there.
“I’ve been in the front of the press a lot,” he said. “I just have to get more comfortable with it.”
Part of the equation with Putney is always his weight, or lack there of. He’s still just 177 pounds, but he’ll enter the season as strong as he’s ever been.
“I might not look strong, but I am strong,” he said. “That all comes from Big Rich. I’m learning to use my strength. I have to play stronger on the court.”
Big Rich is second-year strength and conditioning coach Rich Hogans, who has taken special interest in helping to build up Putney.
“He has gotten a lot stronger,” Hogans said. “If you look at him without a shirt on, his body-fat percentage is so low. He’s nothing but muscle.”
Putney said it’s more than just brute strength. He needs to absorb contact better, increase his stamina and make more intelligent plays when he gets tired.
“I just have to make the smart plays when I’m fatigued. Last year I got in a lot of foul trouble,” Putney said. “This year I have to stay out of foul trouble, remain on the floor and help my team. If I’m on the floor as much as I can, I think we’ll be in better shape.”
Kellogg has noticed the difference.
“His body looks a lot better. He seems a lot more comfortable on the floor and what his role is on this team. Mentally he seems more mature. He has more leadership qualities,” Kellogg said. “He’s gotten stronger. Putting on weight just doesn’t come naturally for him. The strength training and conditioning have gotten him where he can play longer at a higher level. He looks like a stronger basketball player. He should be able to play for a more extended period of time in practice and in games.”
Putney said he’s ready to take on more responsibility.
“I’m a lot more confident. I had big expectations last year and I didn’t reach them,” he said. “This year I feel like I have more expectations for me and for my team to get better. I think I’m a big part of the team this year.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.